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U.N. issues stern warning to Asia

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The United Nations issued a sharp warning on Friday to Asian countries not to relax in the war on the bird flu virus that has killed 19 people in the region because the epidemic was still

The United Nations issued a sharp warning on Friday to Asian countries not to relax in the war on the bird flu virus that has killed 19 people in the region because the epidemic was still spreading. “The spread of the avian influenza virus in several Asian countries is still not under control,” the Food and Agricultural Organization said in a statement, and governments had “to remain vigilant as further outbreaks continue to occur.” Cambodia, China, Indonesia and Laos had reported new outbreaks of the H5N1 virus, it said, despite the slaughter of 80 million chickens — most of them in worst-hit Vietnam and Thailand, which had each killed 30 million. China confirmed outbreaks of bird flu in Shanghai, its financial center, and in the northern city of Tianjin, near Beijing. It also confirmed six outbreaks in the southwestern province of Yunnan and Guangdong in the south as well as saying a black swan had died at a zoo in Shenzhen, bordering Hong Kong, of the H5N1 virus. China has now confirmed cases in 14 provinces. The FAO also stressed that poorer Asian countries had neither the resources nor the organization to eradicate the fast spreading H5N1 virus, reflecting the fears of experts that it could flare up again easily. The World Bank said on Friday it will lend Hanoi $10 million to compensate farmers in Vietnam, where about 30 million of an estimated 250 million poultry have been killed by the virus or culled. ASSURANCES The alarm was sounded as Vietnam and Thailand assured their people the epidemic was coming under control and the United States hastened to stress its bird flu outbreaks were of a milder strain that cannot, like the H5N1, leap the species barrier. “The single take-home message is that the form of avian influenza in New Jersey is not a human health threat,” said Health Commissioner Clifton Lacy as his state became the third in the United States to report an outbreak. Officials said the H7 bird flu virus, which poses no danger to people, had also spread to Pennsylvania and more cases may be found in Delaware, where the first U.S. outbreak occurred. A dozen countries have banned all or some poultry imports from the United States, where the government estimates each person will eat 82.5 pounds (37.4 kg) of chicken this year. But Thailand, the world’s fourth biggest chicken exporter where at least five people have died of bird flu, was already looking beyond the epidemic and seeking to shorten bans crimping its $1 billion a year chicken export industry. The government said it expected to kill the last poultry in its last epidemic zone on Friday and as the technology existed to test for the H5N1 virus, importers should use it. “I will propose this at the FAO conference in Bangkok later this month,” Deputy Agriculture Minister Newin Chidchob said, referring to a February 26-28 meeting on fighting the epidemic and resurrecting the poultry industry. Thailand has shrugged off indirect criticism from the World Health Organization, which said this week some countries were putting business ahead of human health and Bangkok might be over-hasty in pushing to declare the epidemic over. EXPERTS FRET Experts still worry about the virus because there is a remote chance the H5N1 strain could get into someone incubating a human flu virus and mutate into a form that could cause a pandemic in a world population with no immunity to it. Human victims of the bird flu in Vietnam, believed to have got it from direct contact with infected poultry, fell sick quickly and a high proportion of them died, the WHO said in a study of 10 cases in a country where the virus has killed 14 people. In Thailand, a WHO study to be published on Friday, gave a slightly different, but equally lethal, picture. Early symptoms were similar to regular influenza — fever, coughs and muscle pain — but patients got worse rapidly with severe shortness of breath, said Theresa Tam, a Canadian expert on respiratory infections. “By the time they come to the hospital two to six days later after they are sick, they already have pneumonia and soon after that they require ventilation. Then they die two to six weeks later,” Tam said. “The report emphasizes that although there are a limited number of cases today, this disease is lethal and has a rapid and relentless course.” (Source: MEDLine Plus, Reuters Health, feb 2004)

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Posted On: 16 February, 2004
Modified On: 5 December, 2013

Created by: myVMC